Ontario’s best rieslings: a collective tasting on Spotlight Toronto (and two extra tasting notes)

It’s nice when social media pushes the idea of social forward, encouraging collective thinking and group efforts. Like this Ontario riesling project that was proposed to a small group of wine writers and professionals by Rick Van Sickle, of the St Catharines Standard, and Suresh Doss, of Spotlight Toronto.

Six writers, including this guy who does The Wine Case blog, were included in the informal panel and submitted a series of wines. It was noticed, among the reviews submitted, that Cave Spring and Thirty Bench came up quite often in everyone’s lists. Discussions ensued about how to process and package the whole thing, various opinions were expressed, and finally selections were made and posted here. It’s quite a nice list, with a nice price range, starting at as little as 12$. (Why anyone would rather drink Cellared in Canada when good VQA wines are available at such reasonable prices is beyond me.)

I had two more choices in my list which weren’t included in the already long list provided on Spotlight Toronto. Wouldn’t want them to go to waste, so here they are, exclusive to The Wine Case.

Creekside Wines Close-Plant Reserve Riesling VQA Twenty Mile Bench
The folks at Creekside are at their most interesting when they get experimental – as they do with their whole Undercurrents series. This could be an undercurrent, but its steady quality, over the years, has made it a regular part of the Reserve series. Drawn from a closely-planted section of a particular vineyard (Butler’s Grant) dating back to the 80s – an experiment gone absolutely right – the wine has remarkable personality and originality. Part of the wine is aged in oak, but you don’t sense it much, as you concentrate on the clover, pear, quince and ginger ale – yes, ginger ale – that just jumps from the glass.

Hidden Bench Felseck Riesling
Owner Harold Thiele and winemaker Jean-Martin Bouchard may be focusing on Burgundy varieties, but that doesn’t mean they take other grapes for granted. Their rieslings tend to have a steely, clean feel to them, with a good mineral backbone, to which the Felseck vineyard, located just east of the winery buildings, seems to add an extra depth, along with hints of flint stone and, in the 2007 vintage, lovely flavors of pear and caramelized apples. Nice to hear they’re planting more.

Now, I’m going back to Niagara on Tuesday, and should be tasting more rieslings from Fielding and Flat Rock. And hopefully dropping by Creekside to pick up a bottle of that Close Plant. Work, work, work…

Tasting note : three wines from Ontario (Niagara and Prince Edward County)

Every time I go on vacation in Ontario, I quickly head to the LCBO to get my hands on some local wines. Since I started writing about wine, about 12 years ago – a column on Canadian wines and spirits for a magazine -, I’ve always been interested in finding out more about the wines produced in this country. And since only a small proportion of wines from the ROC make their way to Quebec, it’s always a treat to get my hands on some cuvées I’ve never tasted before.

On a quick stop by the Vintages store on Rideau Street, in Ottawa, I picked up three bottles :

  • 2006 Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot by Southbrook Vineyards, Niagara Peninsula
  • 2007 County Pinot Noir by Norman Hardie, Prince Edward County
  • 2006 Old Vines Chardonnay by Lailey Vineyard, Niagara River

Three very different cuvées, all pointing in different directions. A good thing : there is clearly something for everyone in Ontario wines.

The Southbrook Triomphe, produced by a winery that was recently certified biodynamic, scored very well at dinner with a classic lasagna. Expressive, with ripe fruit, good structure, balance and a smooth mouthfeel, with a touch of spice. Clean and neat, it felt uncluttered and easy going. It just drank itself, and thanks to a reasonable alcohol level (under 13%) that kept it fresh and open, it left us wanting more.

The following evening, the Hardie pinot didn’t fare quite as well, however. After hearing a lot of great things about Prince Edward County – one friend even wrote me that the Niagara was being completely overrun by PEC, a much superior region, according to him – and having tasted the excellent pinots and chardonnays made by Deborah Paskus at Closson Chase (I sampled them for an En Route piece on Canadian wines that will be published in the August issue), I was happy to get the chance to taste more.

The wine, clear and bright red, had some fresh cherry aromas, with some earthy notes, but felt a bit thin, when you moved from aromas to flavors. Now, I’m very pro-Burgundy, and find warm climate pinots often tiring, with their dark colors and jammy, spicy flavors. But this just didn’t have the intensity and amplitude you’d want from a pinot – especially one selling for 35$. Mind you, it didn’t have any striking flaws, either – no green flavors, no rough tannins, no off taste or aromas. It just didn’t show enough of its good things for me.

The last wine tasted was the Lailey chardonnay, which showed a very pleasant nose, with lemon, toasted almonds and toasted bread with a dab of butter and herbs, and maybe a bit of pear. The mouthfeel was expansive, substantial but still fresh, thanks to a nice amount of acidity and a twist of lemon rind giving it just enough bitterness. Flavors matched the aromas, and rolled around smoothly to a fairly long and silky finish. My only regret is that a rather nice mineral component seemed a bit smothered by the toasty and fat elements of the wine. But since everything else about this light-gold colored wine was so great, I’m willing to let bygones be bygones.

After this first stint in Ontario, this week, I’ll be returning a couple of times in the coming weeks, including stops in Prince Edward County and the Niagara region. Expect more notes to come as these trips unfold.

Canadians Love Wine More

While beer remains the alcoholic drink of choice of Canadians, wine has been gaining consistently over the last ten years, according to the latest figures from Statistic Canada. Between 1997 and 2007, the market share for beer has gone down from 52% to 47%, while wine increased its share from 21% to 28% (spirits went down slightly, from 27% to 25%, over the same period).

The trend seems to be accelerating, too. Between 2006 and 2007, the value of wine sold in Canada increased by 9.5%, while volumes vent up 7.1%. So Canadians are drinking more wine (61% red), and apparently spending a little more per bottle to get some good stuff.

In terms of per capita consumption, (more…)